House votes to lift debt ceiling, likely delaying default showdown until December

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House lawmakers approved a $480 billion hike to the debt ceiling on Tuesday, averting a potentially catastrophic U.S. default for at least another two months and teeing up another showdown over a long-term solution.

The Democrat-controlled House passed the measure in a 219-206 vote along party lines. The vote brought the House in sync with the Senate, which passed its own bill last week raising the debt limit by $480 billion. President Biden is expected to sign the bill.

The resolution will allow the federal government to cover its debt obligations through Dec. 3. Democratic lawmakers will use the temporary reprieve to identify a long-term solution to raise the debt limit without Republican support.

The debt ceiling bill’s passage followed a lengthy standoff on Capitol Hill. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and business leaders had warned of a potential economic catastrophe if Congress did not approve a hike before the government runs out of money on Oct. 18.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks towards the House Chamber to convene the House for legislative business at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The House is expected to vote to increase the debt limit later this afternoon. ( (AP Newsroom)

Republican lawmakers pledged not to help Democrats raise the debt ceiling, arguing a hike would only facilitate Biden administration spending programs that they deem to be fiscally irresponsible. Biden and Democratic leaders have rejected that argument, asserting the hike ensures the U.S. government can cover debts it has already incurred.

The standalone debt ceiling bill advanced to the House after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered to drop Republican opposition if Democrats agreed to raise the borrowing cap by a fixed dollar amount to avoid a default. McConnell was one of 11 GOP senators who voted to invoke cloture, clearing the 60-vote filibuster threshold and allowing Senate Democrats to pass the hike in a simple majority vote.

McConnell was adamant that Democrats will need to use the budget reconciliation process to achieve a longer-term debt ceiling hike during their deliberations on Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending bill. Democrats say using budget reconciliation would be too complicated and risky.

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Tensions between the two parties spiked yet again last week after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., delivered a scathing floor speech targeting Republicans shortly after the bill passed. Schumer accused the GOP of playing a "dangerous and risky partisan game" during the debt ceiling fight.

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Schumer’s remarks drew sharp criticism from Republicans as well as moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who was visibly angry during the majority leader’s speech.

The speech led McConnell to declare in a letter to Biden that Republicans would not help Democrats to raise the debt ceiling again in December. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is surrounded by journalists as he walks to the Senate Chamber for a vote as Democrats look for a way to lift the debt limit without Republican votes, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 202 (Associated Press)

"In light of Senator Schumer’s hysterics and my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement," McConnell wrote.

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With Republicans withholding further support and budget reconciliation purportedly viewed as a non-starter, it’s unclear how Democrats will proceed. Manchin and fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona say they will oppose any effort to alter filibuster rules to pass a debt hike by a simple majority vote.

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